Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Representing Montreal's Algerian Immigrants on Stage and Screen

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Representing Montreal's Algerian Immigrants on Stage and Screen

Article excerpt

Over the last ten years, I have analyzed the dramatization of the experience of immigrants to Quebec in several articles that dealt with the problems encountered by Neo-Quebecois in their adopted homeland. In "Multiculturalism and Postmodern Theater: Staging Quebec's Otherness" (1996), I concentrated on Marco Micone's trilogy covering three generations of Italians in Montreal, Abla Farhoud's plays about Lebanese immigrants, and Alberto Kurapel's bilingual performances about Chilean exiles. I argued that plays by immigrants staged the difficult process of integration into Quebec society and opened up Quebec theater to other languages, other collective memories and identities, forcing francophone Quebecois to acknowledge the xenophobic and isolationist tendencies of Quebec nationalism. In an article entitled "The Drama of Survival: Staging Post-Traumatic Memory in Lebanese-Quebecois Plays" (2001), I explored the theatricalization of post-traumatic stress syndrome in works by Bernard Antoun, Abla Farhoud, and Wajdi Mouawad that bore witness to the horrors of the Lebanese Civil War. In "Immigrant Theater: Traumatic Departures and Unsettling Arrivals" (2004), I expanded my study of what I call a post-Quebecois or post-nationalist theater of heterogeneity to include plays about Greek immigrants by Pan Bouyoucas and Miguel Retamal's drama's about Chilean political refugees. In the last section of this article, I analyzed plays by Syrian Khaldoun Imam and Moroccan Ahmed Ghazali and noted that particularly traumatic departures from the homeland, exacerbated by cultural differences, made integration into Quebec society even more difficult (Moss 2004, 75).

In this article, I want to pursue the representation of the experience of recent Muslim immigrants, concentrating on the film L'Ange de goudron (2001) by Denis Chouinard (1) and the documentary play Montreal, la blanche (2004) by Bachir Bensaddek. As we are constantly reminded, the September 11 attacks changed how we live our daily lives and how we see the world. The Algerian immigrant community of Quebec, already under a cloud of suspicion after the arrest of Ahmed Ressam for plotting a terrorist attack on the Los Angeles airport in December 1999 and media reports about his connection to Islamic militant cells operating in Montreal, (2) was under increased scrutiny after 9/11. As talk grew about the clash of civilizations, Bin Laden's declaration of jihad, and Al Qaeda sleeper cells, many in the West began to question liberal policies on immigration and multiculturalism. All of this had a chilling effect on North American Muslims, especially those in the precarious situation of seeking permanent status or asylum in Canada.

During the 1990s, Canada (and Quebec in particular) had been a favorite destination for Algerian immigrants according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (www.fait-maeci.gc.ca/middle_-east/algeria_relations-en.asp, 18 June 2004). French-speaking Algerians, especially those with university education and professional skills, were favored by Quebec immigration authorities. As political turmoil erupted into deadly violence in Algeria after the canceled elections of 1991, many Algerians left for Canada, terrified by escalating campaigns of intimidation by Islamic militants and government forces. Although many arrived with false papers or without documentation, pressure from refugee advocacy groups forced the Canadian government to stop deporting so-called "non-status" refugees in 1997. It is estimated that the Montreal Algerian community grew from about 2,000 in 1990 to close to 40, 000 in 2004, despite the lifting of the moratorium on deportation after the G-8 Summit in Quebec in April 2002. (3)

Given the controversy surrounding Canada's immigration policies and the Montreal Algerian community, Denis Chouinard's decision to make a feature-length film about the plight of non-status refugees showed tremendous courage. …

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